Yogurt has come a long way: In the refrigerated section of a single grocery store, you might be able to find Icelandic, Greek, French, goat milk, soy-based, almond-based, coconut-based and plenty of other varieties that stock the shelves.
FYI, yogurt originates from countries in Western Asia and the Middle East, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. It can best be described as coagulated or curdled milk.
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To make yogurt, milk is heated and mixed with the bacteria Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. The mixture then sits for a number of hours between 110 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
Yogurt comes in countless forms and it's commonly served with fresh fruit, nuts and granola for breakfast, or used in savory sauces and salad dressings.
With so many different types of yogurt to choose from comes many questions about the creamy dairy product, namely, what are the health benefits of all these different varieties, and is one a better pick than another? Are there any drawbacks to eating yogurt? Let's dive into it.
The Health Benefits of Yogurt
Yogurt contains an abundance of nutrients, as well as gut-healthy probiotics. The lactose in yogurt is broken down into lactic acid by the bacteria — this means some people with lactose intolerance are able to stomach yogurt in small amounts, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
While yogurt is generally healthy, additives like sugar can increase its calories and decrease the quality of its nutrition, so be sure to keep an eye on ingredients.
1. Yogurt Can Help Build Stronger Bones
Dairy foods — like yogurt — are a fantastic source of vitamin D, which helps build strong bones, per the National Institute of Health. Because yogurt is rich in calcium and vitamin D, it is sometimes recommended to older adults, who often need assistance in enhancing their bone-mineral density, according to Tufts University.
2. Yogurt Is Tied to a Lower Risk of High Blood Pressure
Yogurt-eaters are more likely to have lower blood pressure compared to those who skip out on the food, per Tufts University. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is one of the greatest risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
There seems to be an inverse relationship between the intake of milk and milk products and blood pressure, per a February 2012 review in Current Cardiovascular Risk Reports.
3. Yogurt Might Help Fight Inflammation
There are some conflicting findings around yogurt's role in fighting inflammation but, generally, research shows that dairy helps to decrease the condition (except for in people allergic to cow's milk), according to a May 2017 review of 52 clinical studies in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.
Still, according to the authors of the review, it's not at all clear which components of dairy products help inflammation (and, alternatively, which elements could do more harm than good).
Is Yogurt Good For a Cold?
While yogurt will not cure your cold, it may help provide relief from your symptoms. One cup contains 13 percent of the adult daily requirement for zinc, an important mineral for a healthy immune system. It's also a good source of vitamin A, calcium and potassium. These nutrients give your body the nutritional support it needs to aid your recovery.
And some research shows probiotics can help with colds: A July 2009 study in Pediatrics found that children given probiotics twice a day for six months experienced fewer colds and flu-like symptoms.
4. Yogurt Is Linked to Improved Gut Health
Certain bacterial strains found in yogurt may influence the risk of certain diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), type 2 diabetes, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Though there's not much definitive information on the influence of gut bacteria, it seems that the yogurt bacteria does indeed change the composition of the intestinal landscape.
5. Yogurt Provides Essential Nutrients
Dairy yogurt contains essential nutrients including B2, B12, calcium, zinc and magnesium, as well as a hefty dose of protein, according to the USDA. Overall, yogurt is rich in protein, phosphorus, calcium and B vitamins.
6. Yogurt Can Promote a Healthy Weight
Those who eat more than three servings of yogurt per week appear to be better able to manage their weight, according to Tufts University, though there are many variables that may contribute to this finding.
One May 2014 review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition observed that people who ate more yogurt gained less weight over time and generally had smaller increases in their waist circumference. Still, more research is needed to fully understand the effects of yogurt on weight.
One Disadvantage of Yogurt
Not all is perfect in yogurt land. Because of the wide array of yogurt options, it's important to read the product labels carefully, as too much added sugar can outweigh the food's benefits.
Some yogurts contain upwards of 25 grams of added sugar per serving, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Added sugar contributes to calorie intake without adding essential nutrients, per the USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Yogurt marked specifically for children or toddlers often contains more added sugars. Even more, fat-free products will often add more sugar for better flavor.
Always check the levels for added sugar, even if the yogurt is labeled "organic" or "natural."
3 Popular Types of Yogurt and Their Benefits
While the benefits listed above generally apply to most types of yogurt, it's worth looking into the health benefits of some specific types of yogurt.
Plain yogurt usually refers to any type of yogurt that is not flavored or made with additives like sugar. Just like milk, plain yogurt is available in a variety of different fat percentages — this will alter plain yogurt's nutrition, so be sure to read the label.
The benefits listed here align with the benefits of plain yogurt. Think of plain yogurt as the healthiest option (because it's free from sugar) and as a blank canvas that you can dress up with fruit, nut butters and granola for breakfast, and use as a healthier alternative in recipes that call for sour cream or mayo.
One benefit of Greek yogurt is that it can help feel you fuller for longer. Greek yogurt has about 30 percent more satiating protein than traditional yogurt, per the USDA.
Greek yogurt is tart and a bit sour-tasting. Both Greek yogurt and plain yogurt come from milk that has had healthy bacteria added, causing it to ferment. During this process, yogurt thickens and takes on a slightly tangy taste. Yogurt is then strained with a cheesecloth, which allows the liquid whey part of milk to drain off.
Regular yogurt is strained twice, while Greek yogurt is strained three times to remove additional whey (resulting in a thicker consistency at the end of this process), per December 2013 research in the Journal of Dairy Science.
This extra third straining step is what makes Greek yogurt different from regular yogurt in several important ways. Greek yogurt contains less whey, lactose, calcium, sodium and sugar than regular yogurt. A single serving of Greek yogurt averages around 40 milligrams of sodium — that's about half the sodium in most brands of regular yogurt, according to the USDA.
Goat's Milk Yogurt
When it comes to goat yogurt vs. cow yogurt, goat's milk yogurt may benefit people who are sensitive to lactose.
One of goat milk's benefits is that it has less lactose per cup, which decreases even further when cultured into yogurt. This can make it easier to digest, per December 2016 research in the Proceedings of the Pakistan Academy of Sciences.
The Difference Between Yogurt and Kefir
Yogurt is usually thicker and is eaten with a spoon while kefir is thinner, with a more drinkable consistency.
Simply put, yogurt is made by adding certain bacteria to milk while kefir is made by adding a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast to milk. Kefir usually has more probiotics than yogurt; for example, Lifeway Kefir's probiotic count is 12 live and active cultures while Activia yogurt contains four types.
The number and type of cultures and steps involved impact what ends up in the final product and how your body responds to each food.
Yogurt Brands to Try
Whether you go for flavored, Greek or organic, you may be curious which brands to search for.
- Siggi's Skyr: Skyr (pronounced "skeer") is a cultured dairy product that's said to have been around for more than 1,000 years in Iceland. It's characteristically low in fat and high in calcium and protein, making it a nutrient-rich option. Siggi's offers nonfat, low-fat and full-fat varieties in delicious flavors, all of which are low in sugar, even for flavored varieties. The brand also has a plant-based version that's made with coconut milk and also fairly low in sugar.
- Liberté: Certain lines of Liberté yogurt, including the organic, classiqué, organic Greek and kefir, contain live probiotic bacteria and are made without gelatine, sugar substitutes and preservatives. These come in a host of different flavors and are generally a good source of protein and fat but the Liberté Greek yogurt line is probably your best option as it contains the most protein — just be mindful of the sugar content.
- Nancy's Yogurt: Nancy's is a good choice because it has a variety of different types of probiotic-rich yogurt, such as Greek, kefir, organic, grass-fed and even an oat milk yogurt with protein and probiotics.
- Chobani Less Sugar: This Greek yogurt line from Chobani is a solid pick for people who like their yogurt with added flavor, but don't want all the added sugar that tends to come with it. Chobani Less Sugar contains 9 grams of sugar per serving while its competitors average around 17 grams per serving.
- Harvard School of Public Health: "Yogurt"
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: "VA Dietician Encourages Eating Yogurt for Health Benefits"
- Tufts University: "What's So Great About Yogurt?"
- Dairy Council of California: "Nutrients in Yogurt"
- Current Cardiovascular Risk Reports: ""Dairy Consumption, Blood Pressure, and Risk of Hypertension: An Evidence-Based Review of Recent Literature"
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Habitual Yogurt Consumption and Health-Related Quality of Life: A Prospective Cohort Study"
- Critical RDairy products and inflammation: A review of the clinical evidence"eviews in Food Science and Nutrition: "
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Yogurt and weight management"
- Journal of Dairy Science: "Sensory properties and drivers of liking for Greek yogurts"
- USDA: "Yogurt, plain, low fat"
- USDA: "Goat's milk yogurt"
- Proceedings of the Pakistan Academy of Sciences: "Comparative Study of Cottage Cheese Prepared from Various Sources of Milk"
- Pediatrics: "Probiotic Effects on Cold and Influenza-Like Symptom Incidence and Duration in Children"